Megan Basham caused a stir a few weeks ago with her article exposing the Federal Government’s use of Evangelical influencers to spread COVID talking points. In interviews with multiple Evangelical Thought Leaders, National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins called on pastors to persuade their congregations to follow the government’s guidelines. Collins told Wheaton College dean Ed Stetzer, “I want to exhort pastors once again to try to use your credibility with your flock to put forward the public health measures that we know can work.” Basham also quoted Rick Warren from an interview with Collins: “One of the responsibilities of faith leaders is to tell people to…trust the science. They’re not going to put out a vaccine that’s going to hurt people.”1
Why is Francis Collins telling me how to do my job as a pastor? I don’t tell him how to do his job. I don’t tell him how to use gain of function research to create a deadly virus and allow that virus to leak out. I don’t tell him how to fund research that uses tissue from aborted babies and research performed on aborted babies. Why does he tell me how to do my job?
I understand why the civil magistrate would attempt to co-opt the church to serve as its public relations mouthpiece, but why are some pastors willing to go along with it? Why are they willing to follow “Thus saith the Lord” with “Thus saith the NIH”? Nowhere in Scripture is the pastor commanded to serve as a spokesman for Caesar. The pastor’s duty is to ‘preach the word’ (1 Tim 4:2) and declare the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He is not ordained to preach the government’s current public health protocol. The preaching of the Word of God must not be corrupted with man-made doctrine. Jesus quoted from Isaiah in warning the Pharisees: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9; Mark 7:7).
Our Reformed confessions faithfully summarize the Bible’s teaching on the content of preaching. According to Westminster Confession of Faith 21.5, Lord’s Day worship is to include ‘the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word.’ Belgic Confession Article 29 on the Marks of the True Church states: “The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel.” No mention is made in the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity of the pastor serving as a mouthpiece for the civil magistrate during the Lord’s Day sermon.
Preaching government talking points not only violates God’s command to preach the Word, it jeopardizes the pastor’s credibility. As they listen to each sermon, how can the congregation determine if he’s shilling for the government or actually preaching the Word of God? What does the pastor do when the current government guidelines contradict the previous guidelines? The pastor who preaches the Bible never has to worry that the sermon passage from six months ago will contradict the sermon passage today. Science is always developing, but Scripture never changes. Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
The pastor’s duty is not to promote public health. Of course, we want to be good stewards of our bodies. Humans are made in the image of God. The human body is created good; it has value and dignity. We do not want to abuse our bodies, but care for them as gifts from God. But if the pastor’s duty is to “put forward the public health measures that we know can work,” as Collins says, why limit it to vaccines and masks? Why not preach about exercising, losing weight, having a healthy diet, taking Vitamin D, etc.? According to the CDC, the “risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases sharply with higher BMI [Body Mass Index].” Why doesn’t Collins encourage pastors to preach against obesity?
In telling pastors what to preach, Collins is violating his sphere of authority as a member of the civil government. His role as a member of the governing authority is to be “a servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4). Rather than determine the content of preaching, the magistrate is to remove ‘every obstacle of the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship’ (Belgic Confession, art. 36). Westminster Confession of Faith 23.3: ‘Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith.’ Collins interferes in matters of faith when he instructs pastors what to preach. Westminster Confession of Faith 20.2: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship.” A pastor who preaches the NIH’s talking points is binding the consciences of his hearers with the commandments of men.
What is the role of the civil magistrate with regard to Lord’s Day worship? Andrew Melville, minister in the Church of Scotland, addressed King James VI in 1596 as “God’s silly vassal” and informed him that, in the kingdom of the church, James was “not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.”2 Rather than tell pastors what to preach, Francis Collins should find a true church that ‘engages in the pure preaching of the gospel’ (Belgic Confession, art. 29), sit quietly in the pew, and be fed by the Word of God, just like every other church member. When he faces his final breath, he will not take comfort in his pastor’s preaching of NIH talking points. He will be grateful for a pastor who preached the whole counsel of God, rather than the commandments of men.
©Dan Borvan. All Rights Reserved.
1 My point is not to question the efficacy of the government’s protocol against COVID (vaccines, cloth masks, etc.). I am not qualified to opine on those matters, and you can make up your own mind. I am qualified to address the duty of a pastor.
2 Thomas McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, 2 volumes (Edinburgh, 1824), i. 91–92.
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